Gigabyte’s new GA-MA69GM-S2H board has HTPC written all over it, with no fewer than six possible video output types, optical Toslink output, and AMD’s 690G chipset with Radeon X1250 IGP. In our review, we find more than a few reasons to recommend it to anyone who’s considering a new HTPC.
As a company, Gigabyte serves the DIY and small system integrator market almost exclusively, so a lot is riding on their ability to develop attractive, meaningful packaging. The box for the GA-MA69GM-S2H features vivid branding, as well as a prominent “S2″ graphic. The Gigabyte S-series (which incorporates only AMD Socket AM2 offerings) is organized into four groups based on the number of “S” features the product contains. These features are “Safe” (which could be interpreted as ‘stable’, “Smart”, “Speed”, “SLI”, and “Silent-Pipe” (a fanless cooling solution using heatpipes). The box also offers a comprehensive feature and specification list on the back panel. Overall, the external packaging design will have broad appeal for both DIY consumers and professional system builders.
Inside, the box is portioned into two spaces, with the included accessories resting on top of a white cardboard divider. The GA-MA69GM-S2H hardware bundle includes a pair of locking SATA cables, a colorful custom I/O panel, an attractive manual, and an expansion slot cover with component video (YPbPr) and S-video outputs. Unlike some of the other new 690G-based motherboards with HDMI, the Gigabyte board’s HDMI connector is right on the motherboard itself, which means you can omit the expansion slot module if you wish.
Beneath the cardboard divider and wrapped in a metallic-coated mylar anti-static bag rests the GA-MA69GM-S2H motherboard itself, well-protected by the sturdy box. There’s little more we could ask from Gigabyte when it comes to packaging a value-level component such as this.
|Model||GA-MA69GM-S2H||The S2H designation indicates that this motherboard is designed for stability, and offers intelligent features like Gigabyte’s Xpress BIOS Rescue and EasyTune software.|
|Form Factor||Micro ATX||The Micro ATX form factor is enjoying renewed popularity in enthusiast machines, thanks to the HTPC revolution.|
|PCB Dimensions||24.4 cm H x 24.4 cm W||Compact Micro ATX motherboards allow PCs to fit into racks of home audio electronics.|
|CPU Socket Type||Socket AM2||Even as new socket technologies such as AM2+ and AM3 loom on the horizon, Socket AM2 remains a viable and relatively future-proof socket. AMD seems determined not to repeat their past mistakes with prematurely discontinuing Socket 939 products.|
|FSB||2000MHz||AMD’s Hypertransport bus offers competition-humbling memory bandwidth with an effective 2GHz link between the CPU, memory, and northbridge.|
|Chipset||AMD 690G||The AMD 690G chipset consists of the RS690 northbridge (which integrates an X1250 graphics core, effectively half of a Radeon X700) and SB600 southbridge.|
|Memory Type||DDR2 800/667/533/400||The GA-MA69GM-S2H supports the full gamut of available DDR2 memory speeds. Memory voltages up to 1.8v are supported.|
|Memory Slots||DDR2 DIMM x4||Four memory slots used to be a rarity on Micro ATX motherboards, but now it’s essentially the norm. Remember, however, that you can’t effectively use a full 4GB of memory in a 32-bit operating system.|
|Graphics Interface||PCI Express X16||This provides an excellent upgrade path from the onboard video.|
|Expansion Slots||1 PCI Express x 16 slot, 1 PCI Express x 4 slot; 2 PCI slots||The GA-MA690GM-S2H offers plenty of expandability, including an upgrade path for the onboard graphics core. SLI and Crossfire remain off-limits on Micro ATX motherboards (for now).|
|Video||Integrated Radeon X1250 core||The integrated Radeon X1250 graphics core in the RS690 northbridge offers somewhat better 3D performance than the GeForce 6150, as well as hardware video decoding acceleration.|
|SATA Controller||AMD SB600 integrated (SATA2 3.0 GB/s; RAID 0, 1, 0+1 supported)||The integrated SATA controller in the SB600 southbridge offers enough flexibility and throughput to support the appropriate storage schemes for an HTPC.?|
|Onboard LAN||Realtek RTL8110 PHY(10/100/1000Mbit)||There’s plenty of bandwidth here to enable quick video transfers to remote PCs, or to a central home server.|
|Onboard Audio||7.1-channel HD Audio||This board provides a variety of audio output options, including a Toslink optical digital connection and digital output on the HDMI video output port.|
|Onboard Audio Controller`||Realtek ALC 889A with DTS Connect||Gigabyte claims this chipset is capable of delivering a 106dB SNR, which is competitive with the Creative SB Audigy/2/4 range of sound cards.|
|IDE ATA||1x ATA 133, 1x FDD||This card supports both Dolby Digital and DTS output, for receivers and preamp/processors that support the two formats. This is useful for HTPCs, but is standard fare for most sound cards. Not all receivers or pre/pros support input at the full 192kHz rate, however.|
|Rear panel I/O||1 PS/2 keyboard port, 1 PS/2 mouse port; 1 D-Sub port, 1 DVI-D port, 1 HDMI port; 1 Optical SPDIF Out port; 1 IEEE 1394a port, 4 USB 2.0/1.1 ports, 1 RJ-45 LAN port; 6 audio jacks (Line In / Line Out / MIC In/Surround Speaker Out (Rear Speaker Out)/Center/Subwoofer Speaker Out/Side Speaker Out)||The GA-MA69GM-S2H motherboard provides an excellent array of input/output options. Legacy serial and parallel ports have been 86’ed in favor of the trio of VGA, DVI-D, and HDMI video ports. In addition, a Toslink optical connector offers an easy connection to a home theater receiver or a multichannel speaker system with an optical digital input.|
|Hardware Monitoring||System voltage detection, CPU / System temperature detection, CPU / System fan speed detection, CPU / System warning temperature, CPU fan failure warning, CPU Smart Fan function||A broad array of monitoring functions are available, and the CPU fan thermal speed control is more tweakable than many others we’ve seen.|
|Power Connectors||ATX12V 2.2 compliant 24-pin power connector, 4-pin CPU power connector||Nothing out of the ordinary here. Move along, then.|
|BIOS; Other Features||Use of licensed AWARD BIOS; PnP 1.0a, DMI 2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 1.0b; Supports @BIOS; Supports Download Center; Supports Q-Flash; Supports EasyTune (only supports Hardware Monitor function); Supports Xpress Install, Xpress Recovery2, and Xpress BIOS Rescue||Many of these additional features refer to software utility interoperability, which makes things like BIOS-flashing possible. While it’s disappointing to see that full EasyTune functionality isn’t enabled, that’s about par for the course when it comes to value-level parts.|
Next, let’s look at the features of the board itself.